Friday, October 26, 2012

Tech Note: Early Impressions of Windows 8

I saw a headline the other day that claimed Windows 8 is the best operating system ever made. This may very well be true, but that doesn't mean it is for everyone or that it is even very good.  Let me explain.

If you go read the history of Microsoft at The History of Computing Project web site, what you will find is a company who time and again put open and backwards compatibility at the fore.  This is what pushed Microsoft to the front of the OS world and got them such a large portion of the market place.  That is what will keep them on top of the enterprise market at least for a while longer as we begin to slowly shift back to a terminal oriented workplace, and that is also what makes the new Windows 8 a clunky sort of operating system.

I've been using Windows 8 Enterprise on my work computer now for a couple of weeks and for this experience it provides no added functionality.  I spend 90% of my time in the desktop environment and find going back to the Metro interface to be quite annoying and time consuming.

Problem is Microsoft is in a tough spot.  They need an OS that can compete with iOS and Android, but because of their obsession with making everything backwards compatible and open they needed to keep a Windows desktop component in order to run applications written for DOS and file systems running Novell 3.  Blending these two needs is quite tough but Microsoft has pulled it off amazingly well and this is why it is the best OS ever made.  I have no doubt of that.  It can do everything you would want from an OS.  It can be a touch friendly interface when you want a pad device and it can be a hardcore workstation when you want to run statistical analysis.  There is no other OS that can match that.

There are problems though that have to be addressed.  Currently the level of application support for the Metro (or touch) mode of Windows 8 is quite weak.  This means that if you get a Windows RT device instead of an iPad you will be waiting a bit for applications to hit the marketplace and so limited in what you can do.  This also means if you are buying a hybrid device to replace your laptop you will be spending a good bit of your time in the desktop environment and for many this back and forth transition from Metro to desktop can be quite confusing.  For instance I couldn't see getting my wife a Windows 8 device at this point.  It would just confuse her and frustrate her.

I think Microsoft understands all of this and that is why enterprise customers will be able to buy machines with Windows 7 for at least a couple more years and also why Microsoft decided to push hardware manufacturers forward by releasing their own devices.  Once a rich base of applications are in place and you can live most of your life in the Metro environment they can slowly clear out the desktop mode and even remove it completely from the Windows RT devices.

One quick note as to why Windows RT instantly makes this a good competitor to the iPad running iOS.  It does true multi-tasking.  You can install printers, plug in USB storage devices, and run IE with flash in the desktop environment.  It also comes with Word, Excel, and Powerpoint for free.  And it allows for multiple user accounts.  This means you can have a login that is separate from your kids.  So they can have their games but not accidentally send an email to your coworkers.

I don't see any reason to go into details about how the OS works or how the included apps, like Mail, work.  They are fine but need tuning to make them better, just like any early version of an application.  The main thing to understand is that Windows 8 is trying to be everything for everyone and that is very tough to pull off.  It can make the experience a bit confusing at times and frustrating at times.  But it is extremely stable as a desktop OS and quite fast.  I wouldn't recommend people run out and buy it, but if you are looking to buy an iPad type device I would seriously consider one with Windows 8.  It may have limited applications right now, but it's potential far outweighs anything the iPad can offer.     

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